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Fox Chiefs Talk Reboots, ‘X-Files’ Future and Strains of Peak TV Era

The enormity of the TV series landscape these days has helped fuel Fox’s push into the past with reboots and revivals of familiar properties. But shows with built-in brand names still have to earn their way on to the schedule, Fox Television Group chief Dana Walden and Fox entertainment president David Madden emphasized Monday during the exec Q&A session of Fox’s Television Critics Association presentation.

“Reboots are not a guarantee of success — we certainly know that as well as anyone,” Walden said. “Our hope was that the well-known titles — if and only if well-executed — would lighten the load on our marketing team (by) taking advantage of viewers’ awareness.”

Bowing on Fox in the 2016-17 season are new iterations of “24” and “Prison Break” and adaptations of movies “Lethal Weapon” and “The Exorcist.” The explosion of TV series options for viewers has made reboots more appealing, Walden said. but in other ways they face a higher bar in getting on the air. Walden said she was flat-out “skeptical” when she heard that “Lethal Weapon” was being shopped as a TV series. She had doubts that the action franchise could sustain as a series and she had even bigger doubts about the ability to cast worthy successors to the buddy cop characters played by Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.

After Damon Wayans and “Rectify’s” Clayne Crawford were set in the lead roles, Walden said the pilot “leapt over the bar” to secure a prime spot on Fox’s fall schedule. Walden enthused that the series produced by McG and Warner Bros. TV delivers “drama, humor, heart and a level of action rarely seen on television.”

The impetus for the “Prison Break” revival came from a lunch date with Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos about five years ago, after Sarandos mentioned how well the show performed for the streaming giant. It took a few years for creator Paul Scheuring to settle on the right idea to revisit the saga of the brothers behind bars.

Madden also stressed that while the reboots command much of the spotlight, seven of Fox’s 11 new series are based on wholly original ideas.

“That clearly remains our predominant business,” Madden said. “As we are now starting with comedy and drama development, most of what we’ll be looking at will be original because that’s the nature of what we do.”

Walden opened the session by acknowledging that Fox remains in the midst of a tough process of rebuilding its schedule. And she conceded that broadcast TV in general has faced extremely tough competition from cable and streaming services from a creative perspective.

Broadcast TV “has not been the flavor of the month, and for good reason,” she said, given the advent of “shiny new services that wowed you and cable networks that won your attention with fantastic shows that would never have survived on broadcast.”

The spike in production has made development a much harder process than ever before if only because so many experienced players, above and below the line, are already committed to shows. “Beyond even the creators, trying to staff shows with experienced writers who can deliver” at the level that broadcast demands is tough, Walden observed.

But while plenty of prominent showrunners have publicly disavowed interest in working in broadcast TV these days, given the greater latitude of cable and SVOD, Walden said broadcast still offers a level of prominence that can’t be matched by most other platforms.

“You get to be part of a conversation — a national and global conversation and cultural zeitgeist,” she said. With the right show, “you can tap into such a broad audience that hits a nerve. You can’t have that on other platforms.”

Walden and Madden both stressed that broadcast TV’s norms are fast changing. The tradition of series going 22 or 24 episodes is no longer the rule. And despite the wealth of competition there is no question that success on broadcast TV still yields the biggest windfall for creatives.

“For creators there’s still an opportunity for a big financial home run in broadcast that doesn’t exist on the other platforms,” Madden said.

Among other topics touched on during the Q&A session and the post-panel discussions:

  • Fox is hoping to do another batch of “The X-Files” episodes, after the show’s successful revival earlier this year, and is in discussions with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and creator Chris Carter. Walden said she hoped to have more than six episodes in the next go-round.
  • The decision to move the baseball drama “Pitch” from midseason to fall was prompted by ABC’s decision to delay the debut of “Scandal” because of star Kerry Washington’s pregnancy. “The idea of putting it up against a juggernaut like ‘Scandal’ was not appealing to us,” Walden said, noting that “Pitch” should draw young women. The ability to launch it in fall, just as baseball season hits its climax with the World Series, “is ideal for the show,” she said.
  • Walden indicated that M. Night Shyamalan’s drama “Wayward Pines” is a contender for a third season renewal, despite weaker ratings in season two. She said the director has pitched an intriguing idea for season three.
  • Producer Mark Burnett has teamed with the online music service Shazam to develop a “Name That Tune”-style music game show for Fox.

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